Friday, February 11, 2005

After the election, Gallahers give the winners $22,500--Mayor doesn't know why

Some who give money to City Council candidates may hope to receive political favors if their candidates win. And most successful candidates are probably grateful for their contributions. But that doesn't mean a contributor can "buy" a Councilmember's vote for $500--the maximum contribution a recent city ordinance allows.

But what if a developer with a project before the City gave a winning candidate $5,000 after the election? What if the developer, his family, and his employees gave $22,500 to all four winners? And what if the influential Mayor who just retired, after 12 years on the Council, worked for the developer?

A day or two after the November 2 election last year, the Gallaher family and employees associated with the Varenna project in Fountaingrove each gave the $500 maximum to winning candidates Jane Bender, Mike Martini, John Sawyer, and Lee Pierce. They gave $5,000 apiece to the first three, and $7,500 to Pierce--$22,500 in all, from essentially one source with a project before the City.

The Press Democrat reported yesterday the Planning Commission would consider Varenna's environmental impact report that afternoon. Mike McCoy's story said, "Today's hearing comes three months after Gallaher, Mabry and other company officials, along with some family members, poured $22,500 in last-minute donations into the campaigns of four City Council candidates. The group donated $5,000 each to incumbents Jane Bender and Mike Martini and news store owner John Sawyer. It also pumped $7,500 into the campaign of gemstone distributor Lee Pierce. The donations were received by the candidates, all of whom won Nov. 3, the day after the election."

Sawyer was the only winner to acknowledge the late contributions look suspicious: "All four council members rejected the idea that the donations are an attempt to influence their positions on the Varenna project. While the project is under the jurisdiction of the Planning Commission, that panel's decision can be appealed to the council. Sawyer agreed the timing of the donations - and the decision by Aegis officials and their families to bundle 10 to 15 individual contributions to each candidate - 'doesn't look that good.'

But Sawyer, Bender, Martini and Pierce all said receipt of the donations was not tied to any promises to the donors. All four said they would not be influenced by the contributions. 'I don't know why they did it. I'm not inside their heads, but I'm not going to get bought by anybody,' Bender said."

The candidates' campaign finance reports are readily available to the public at the City website--although the City Clerk does censor contributors' phone numbers and addresses from the public documents. Mayor Bender's Form 460 for contributions and expenses through 12/31/04, stamped received by the City 1/26/05, says seven Gallahers and three others gave her a total of $5,000. The $5,000 is most of the $6,998 in late contributions she received between 10/29--11/10/04.

Bender's form lists donations of $500 each 11/3/04 from: W. R. Mabry, "Partner, Aegis Corp"; William Gallaher, "Partner, Aegis Corp"; Cynthia Gallaher, "housewife"; Debra Lin, "housewife"; Joseph Lin, "CFO, Oakmont Sr. Living"; Steven Gallaher, "Construction Supervisor, Oakmont Construction Inc."; Nicole Gallaher, "Student"; Molly Gallaher, "Student"; Patrick Gallaher, "Retired"; and Joan Gallaher, "Secretary Oakmont Construction Inc."

Bender received $500 contributions from developers Schellinger Bros. 10/29, and real estate man Ross Liscum (a longtime member of the Board of Public Utilities) 11/8/04. She received $800 from five others, and $198 in unitemized contributions of less than $100 each.
[Go here to access the candidates' campaign finance reports: ]

McCoy's story concluded, "Former Councilwoman Sharon Wright, who chose not to seek re-election in November, has been working in the marketing department for Aegis the past two years." In fact, the City's website had said Wright was Director of Marketing for Aegis Senior Living, LLC.

The City Attorney wrote me 9/25/03, "Aegis Senior Living, LLC is the management and marketing arm of Oakmont Senior Living, LLC. Currently the Mayor is 'officially' employed by Oakmont Senior Living, LLC the parent company. However, once the Santa Rosa project Aegis at Fountaingrove is approved, she will be an employee of that entity." Varenna is presumably the "Aegis at Fountaingrove" project.

McCoy said of Varenna, Aegis and William Gallaher, "The 250-unit project, named after a small town in Italy, is proposed by Aegis Assisted Living, a company founded in 1997 by prominent Sonoma County developer and financier William Gallaher and Washington developer Dwayne Clark. The site is along Fountain Grove Parkway, overlooking Fountaingrove Lake and abutting the southern edge of the Fountaingrove Golf & Athletic Club."

"Aegis Assisted Living is no stranger to building retirement communities. The Redmond, Wash., company operates 31 assisted-living residences in California, Nevada and Washington. Before teaming up with Clark, Gallaher spent two decades building offices, apartments and more than 1,000 homes throughout Sonoma County, including 440 homes in Oakmont.

He was the driving force behind the startup of First Community Bank last year and is part owner of the Fountaingrove Golf & Athletic Club, which operates the adjoining 170-acre golf course. Calls to Gallaher and William Mabry, Varenna's project manager, for comment on the project were not returned this week."


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